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Is Life Quantum Mechanical? The emerging science of quantum biology

Speaker: Prof. Jim Al-Khalili (University of Surrey)
Date: Friday 15 September 2017
Time: 16:00
Venue: N/4.07

Physicists and chemists are accustomed to dealing with quantum mechanics, but biologists have thus far got away without having to worry about this strange yet powerful theory of the subatomic world. However, times are changing. There is now solid evidence that enzymes, those metabolic workhorses that drive much of the action in our cells, use the process known as quantum tunnelling to accelerate chemical reactions. And over the past few years it has emerged that plants may use quantum coherence – sending lumps of energy in many directions at once – to calculate the most efficient route for sunlight to get to their photosynthetic cells. More intriguingly, it appears that some birds might use quantum entanglement – what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” – to ‘see’ the earth’s magnetic field for navigation. This lecture introduces the exciting new field of Quantum Biology. But how can fragile quantum mechanical phenomena previously thought to be confined to highly rarefied laboratory environments at temperatures close to absolute zero, manage to survive in the wet, warm biological world? And if life does make use of quantum mechanics, so what? How exciting and important is this field likely to become?